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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2013 - 2014 Regular Session


Posted: December 5, 2013 10:04 AM
From: Senator Anthony H. Williams
To: All Senate members
Subject: Resolution to Study "Gapping" and Higher Ed Access for Low-Income Students
In the near future, I will introduce a resolution directing the Pennsylvania Department of Education to study “gapping” at Pennsylvania postsecondary schools (otherwise known as “high-tuition/high-aid” policies or “financial-aid leveraging”), as well as how the Commonwealth can better serve low-income students that choose to get their education at home in Pennsylvania.
There is strong economic correlation for areas with high degree attainment versus those without it. The U.S. Census Bureau’s reporting indicates that there is a $1 million difference in high school graduates' lifetime earnings and those whose highest education is a bachelor's degree. That stands to drastically impact families and tax receipts across the Commonwealth. The most recent studies from the Keystone Research Center, for example, hold that nearly 2 in 3 of all adults in rural areas have no more than a high school diploma. And in Philadelphia, the poorest large city in the nation, just 1 in 5 residents has a bachelor’s degree. Barriers to higher education, particularly among low-income students, cost us all.
Yet, recent articles in The New York Times, ABC News, USA Today and others have cited the inequalities low-income students face in the college admissions process. Low-income students are receiving less need-based aid. Even with good grades, low-income students receive less “merit aid” or institutional aid than wealthier students who have the same grades – sometimes in a deliberate effort to discourage low-income students who will never be able to pay such high costs from enrolling (“gapping”).
Pennsylvania, in fact, ranks as the 6th most expensive state in which to attend a public college, as well as the 6th highest in overall student debt load. When it comes to state-related research universities, it’s the most expensive in the nation. Worse, the New America Foundation cites Pennsylvania as one of the most expensive states for in-state, low-income students to attend college.
A full-time, in-state student whose family makes less than $30,000 a year will frequently have to pay more than $10,000 a year at PASSHE schools, and over $15,000 a year for a Penn State campus. However, other states have managed to keep in-state tuition costs much lower for their neediest students. For a point of comparison, a first-time, in-state University of North Carolina student with the same family income only pays an average of $5,361 per year.
This resolution would direct the Department of Education to conduct a study into the problem of “gapping,” as well as how other states have managed to keep tuition costs low for students who need it most.

Introduced as SR277